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12 December 2012

Gender and Educational Reform: Transforming Gender Norms among Young Adolescents for Lasting Social Change

The Gender and Public Policy Program organized a seminar entitled “Gender and Educational Reform: Transforming Gender Norms among Young Adolescents for Lasting Social Change” as part of its seminar series. Soha Ellaithy, Director of Gulf Partnerships at Save the Children in Dubai spoke to an audience of academics, researchers, scholars and practitioners. Introductory remarks were made by Ghalia Gargani, Acting Director of the Gender and Public Policy Program on the importance of looking at interventions at the childhood level in addressing gender inequalities. The seminar was moderated by the Gender Program’s non-resident fellow Dr May Al Dabbagh.
Research on adolescent development finds that pre-teen and early teen years are especially important for the formation of norms and the adoption of behaviours that persist in adulthood. Behaviours and norms embraced during childhood significantly influence adult lives on multiple fronts, such as educational attainment, occupations and even health.
The seminar focused on how gender biases can be overcome and how shifts in gender norms can be made through specifically designed curriculum interventions that target very young adolescent girls and boys aged 10-14 years old. The seminar addressed these important questions through a presentation of a project titled CHOICES, which was developed by Save the Children in collaboration with Georgetown University's Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH).
CHOICES is a curriculum-based pilot program of creative, participatory activities and innovative evaluation techniques that was implemented over a three-month period in Nepal and most recently in Egypt. The evaluation of the program demonstrated that even relatively brief curriculum interventions can empower very young adolescents to challenge the gender norms of their society and make changes in their own lives in the direction of gender equity.
Boys who participated in the Nepal pilot showed a staggering drop in traditional gender role views. The perception of traditional gender roles altered dramatically among boys who participated in the CHOICES program. For instance, prior to the session, 45 percent of the boys thought it was acceptable for a man to hit his wife while 60 percent believed that boys who helped with chores at home are perceived as weak. At the conclusion of the sessions, these numbers dropped to 10 percent and 20 percent respectively.
The success of this pilot in Nepal has encouraged Save the Children to adapt the content and bring it to the Arab world. They began with Egypt, where a pilot project has been implemented in a rural area in the south. The results are expected to be available in January 2013.
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